DENVER — Layup and dunk. Dunk and layup.
They were seen all over the court, partners in grime against a Lakers' defense that was anything but clean.
The Lakers appeared to be on the short end of a game-long three-on-two drill, the Denver Nuggets somehow spending an entire basketball game on the power play in a 126-114 victory Wednesday at the Pepsi Center.
Just when you thought the Lakers turned the corner, they hadn't. They were looking for six consecutive victories for the first time since Phil Jackson was coach. They'll have to keep looking.
Compounding their issues was Dwight Howard's early exit after he smashed Kenneth Faried on a drive by the Nuggets' power forward with 5:02 left in the third quarter. Howard was hit with a flagrant foul 2 and ejected with 12 points and seven rebounds.
The NBA will review the play and determine if further discipline is needed. The Lakers' next game is Friday against Portland.
Howard's thoughts on a possible suspension were obvious.
"I'm not rollin' with that," he said, claiming it was a foul but not a flagrant one. "I've been getting fouled my whole career. I'm a strong guy. The guy that fell tonight was a strong guy also."
It was the first ejection of Howard's NBA career.
"I don't think it was extensive enough to warrant a one-game suspension but I believe it was a flagrant," Kobe Bryant said.
Coach Mike D'Antoni said that referees were "pretty good at looking at the tape [courtside] and figuring it out."
The Lakers' defense was more fragrant than flagrant.
It's hard to win when the opponent makes 26 dunks, layups or tip-ins in the first three quarters. Twenty-six.
The Lakers (14-15) seemed fatigued, their body language anything but engaging as they fell back below .500.
As the Nuggets dribbled out the final seconds, Bryant leaned over, tugging on his shorts with his hands. He was one of the Lakers' sharper players Wednesday, yet again, scoring 40 points on 13-for-24 shooting.
"We played old," Bryant said. "They played with a lot of energy, a lot of youth, got up and down. We just seemed like were in a lower gear all night. It's a little more alarming now because of the way we started the season."
Maybe the Lakers were tired, but they were actually in Denver before the Nuggets, flying out after their Christmas Day victory against New York while the Nuggets didn't leave Los Angeles until losing to the Clippers later that night at Staples Center.
Still, Corey Brewer beat up the Lakers with 27 points, tying a career high and making six of seven from three-point range.
One of them came when he went coast to coast in three seconds, taking the inbounds pass after a Lakers turnover and drilling an off-balance three-pointer for a 96-87 lead to end the third quarter.
There were other gaffes.
JaVale McGee blew past Steve Nash at the free-throw line and Howard down low, the two Lakers then holding a brief what-happened dialogue before D'Antoni called timeout in the first quarter.
"I can't be everywhere and stop everybody," Howard said. "It's not a one-man show on either side of the floor. Everybody has to step up."
The Nuggets' ridiculously easy first quarter was indicative of their night: a free throw off a clear-path foul, a layup, dunk, three-pointer, layup, tip-in, alley-oop dunk, driving dunk, layup, dunk, jump shot, free throw, layup, layup, tip-in.
Then nine of their 10 second-quarter field goals were layups or dunks.
"That's too many points in the paint," said Pau Gasol, who had 19 points.
Beforehand, as the NBA slowly started to take notice of the Lakers' mini-revival, Nuggets Coach George Karl was incredibly kind toward them.
"Pick your poison. Do you cover Howard in the paint? Do you cover the ball to the rim or do you cover the three ball?" he said. "I am just amazed that Kobe Bryant has been averaging 26 shots per game in his last five games. The energy that it takes to shoot the ball that many times a game and be efficient is amazing, and the guy looks like he is getting younger more than he is getting older."
On Wednesday, the Nuggets were the young and fun ones. The Lakers aren't back yet.